Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tip #13: Crying is fine

How can you follow the course of your life
if you do not let it flow?
- Lao-Tzu

That's the quote for March 21 in The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo, which has a reading for every day of the year. In the reading for that day, he tells us that like nature, we need to shed from ourselves what we don't have a need for anymore. But we tend to do the opposite. We hold on to bad experiences, we internalize problems, we grow discontent inside of us. You can read the excerpt here.

In my life, I have found that sometimes it is hard to let go or to accept what we are facing. But we have to in order to move on. That's one reason why we need to cry. Tears are a way to let our life flow. Cry. Let go. Feel the sadness the tears bring. Really feel it. And then, feel relief. Like the baby in the picture, just brought into this world when he was so comfortable in his mother's womb.

And, as I was thinking about this post, I heard on the radio, by chance, the psychologist James Pennebaker, author of The Secret Life of Pronouns, talking about how he discovered that people who had a traumatic experience and kept it hidden had much worse health problems, so he asked a group of people to write about those experiences, while another group was asked to write about trivial things. The first group saw their health improve immediately, while there was no such effect in the second.I don't know if they cried while they wrote, but I'm sure they felt something very close to crying.

If you still need convincing, know that tears are actually good for you. In the article "The health benefits of tears," Dr. Judith Orloff explains that "like the ocean, tears are salt water. They lubricate your eyes, remove irritants, reduce stress hormones and contain antibodies that fight pathogenic microbes."

After my second diagnosis, I think I probably cried for three months. I still do when things accumulate in my plate. But, as my mother always says, "Tears make your eyes more beautiful, let them flow." What's there to lose?

What do you think? Let me know!

With lots of love and peace.

(Photo by KungFuStu)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tip #12: Consult the experts

In this week's tip, I would like to emphasize how important it is not to do things because you just read about them on the internet, although I will be the first to admit, I sometimes (often?) do, and, by the title of my blog, I may want you to do that too.

But, as I say in the "about me" area, I'm not a medical doctor, or a nutritionist, so you do need to take everything I write here with a grain of salt and then decide for yourself. Although that seems like something totally obvious, I think it can never be emphasized enough. Not only that, I feel like we are all very different and one diet or one supplement will probably not be good for everyone.

Thus, when I was diagnosed with my recurrence, of course, I started doing lots of research about cancer, treatments and nutrition. I had already eliminated animal products from my diet (for the most part), but I felt that that had not been enough so I had to be even more strict. So I eliminated all sugar and tried to eat mostly raw. I had also read that juicing was good, so I started juicing carrots. But then, I learned that carrots are very sweet, so I stopped juicing carrots. I started reading about vitamin D, but my bones were damaged, so maybe I needed calcium. And so on. Luckily, the angels that I always have helping me, sent me through different means information about a wonderful nutritionist who specializes in cancer and how to maximize your conventional treatment. Her name is Jeanne Wallace and, in my view, she has to be the best in her field in this country. She is actually now quite famous and only deals with doctors, so I work with another nutritionist in her group, Michelle Gerencser, who is, not only extremely knowledgeable but also caring and kind and a pleasure to deal with. Their group is called Nutritional Solutions and they are located in Utah, but we meet through Skype or the phone. Once you become their client, they put together a plan specific for you, based on many blood tests and questionnaires. Then, they recommend a special diet and certain supplements, but they give you the research behind all of them. The plan for me will be very different than the plan for someone who has a brain tumor.

I have to say that I love having Michelle as my nutritionist. She is an important part of the team that is helping me on my path to wellness. I take now lots of supplements (I never took any before), but I know that each one is part of a puzzle. And I also feel like a movie star with my own nutritionist, :)

For anyone diagnosed with cancer, I highly recommend them, but for everyone else, I do think that having a naturopath or an integrative doctor is a very wise decision if you feel you need to start taking any supplements or need to tweak your diet. Leave it to the experts. The same can be said about doctors. Find one you really believe in, and work with him or her as a team.

And, if you do have cancer, I'm going to leave you with some links to talks given by Dr. Wallace about the role of nutrition in the treatment of cancer. I used to listen to these talks over and over, because they gave me so much hope. Enjoy!
Can you also recommend any professional who has helped you as well? Let me know and thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Tip #11: Discover new ingredients

When you decide to start eating healthier, sometimes you get stuck because you just don't know what to cook, or even how to cook. How am I going to make my wonderful carbonara sauce without dairy or bacon? How can I substitute my commercial salad dressing (full of unhealthy oils)?

I remember that, after reading The China Study, being totally convinced not to use animal products any more in my house, I felt like my dishes were bland, boring and not great at all. I have to admit I was extremely embarrassed to invite people over, as I really felt that 1) my food choices were "weird" to begin with, and 2) nothing I made could be liked that much. Yes, it was edible, and yes, probably very healthy, but that was it. I realize now that I definitely had a complex then, don't ask me why.

Little by little, I started finding great recipe blogs and books (I'll talk more about them in another post), and  begun enjoying what I was cooking. I feel my family did too. (My husband will say, though, that he always liked what I made and it's true. My kids I think would agree with me that now things are tastier).

But one thing that I really think made a big difference was to overcome the fear of new ingredients. You read any vegan cookbook and you start seeing mentions of nutritional yeast. What the heck was that? It sounded weird and it looked weird (in the pictures that I found online about it, because no grocery stores near me had it, to begin with). So, one day I just decided to order it from Amazon and now it is one of my basic ingredients that I love using.

So, I'm just going to tell you about four things that maybe you're not familiar with, but that have helped me make my dishes much tastier and maybe even healthier.

1) Nutritional Yeast. Like I've already said, I found this ingredient puzzling at first. But it is a good source of B vitamins, folic acid, selenium, zinc, and protein and it gives a slight cheesy taste to most everything. In this blog post from one of my favorite food bloggers, you can learn everything about it. I now buy it at a Whole Foods that just opened near my home. Just remember not to confuse it with brewer's yeast or other yeasts. Sometimes, when you ask in a store, they may not know the difference themselves. I use it to make vegan macaroni and "cheese," scrambled tofu and many sauces, soups and dressings.

2) Spanish Paprika. I'm sure many of you are already familiar and use papikra but I'm talking here about the paprika that comes from Spain. It is sometimes called smoked paprika. I recommend you always buy the one from Spain. There are at least three variations, either hot or mild (sometimes called sweet) and it is what gives chorizo sausage its wonderful flavor and red color. You can now find it at Whole Foods, or you can also get it at I find that just a little bit goes a long way. I love using it in soups and salad dressings for an extra chorizo flavor without the guilt. And for information about the powerful health benefits of paprika, including anti-inflammation, you can read this post.

3) Miso Paste. Although I have had miso soup in restaurants for a long while now, this is another ingredient that I was afraid of. It just looked mysterious and strange and I really thought it was only used in soups. Well, again, it took a bit to even find it (Whole Foods again), but I now love using it, sometimes instead of salt in some of my dishes. It is also full of health benefits, including the fact that it is a fermented food (the kind you definitely should be eating everyday) with probiotic properties. To know more about it, here's 20 benefits and uses of miso.

4) Cashews. OK, I know you already knew about this one, but what I have discovered is that cashews can be extremely versatile and now I use them often to make my dishes creamier or when I want to replace dairy in recipes. For example I cannot make the same carbonara sauce I used to make for spaghetti, so rich with heavy cream and cheese, but I now use cashews, water, garlic, a raw tomato and nutritional yeast, all blended in the Vitamix and, granted, it is not the same, but it is very, very good and extremely creamy. By the way, if you don't have a Vitamix, you can still use cashews as cream in a regular blender, but you need to soak them in water at least four hours before hand. Also, I use raw cashews for this use. I don't know if you would get the creaminess with roasted ones. Cashews are also very healthy, as you can read here.

And let me finish with one of my favorite recipes which combines all these ingredients and it is of my own creation. Four years ago I could not have dreamed of one day posting a recipe of my own on a public blog.
I have come a long way. :)

Pink Salad Dressing

1 and 1/2 cup water
1/2 cup raw cashews
1 Tablespoon packed sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil)
1 Tablespoon miso (not white) paste
1 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 garlic clove (or more to taste)
1/4 teaspoon Spanish Paprika

Blend everything in a Vitamix or regular blender (soak cashews for 4 hours beforehand) for about 1 minute.

What other ingredients do you recommend I try next? Thanks for letting me know!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Tip #10: Always have hope

What is hope? Let's see:

Expectation, desire, trust. Expectations that things will get better. Desire that our situation will change. And trust that, somehow, maybe through a miracle, those two things will be true.

We are often confronted with situations that just seem insurmountable at that moment. But we always have two options, no matter what we have to face: we either move on or succumb. In order to move on we do need a special fuel. And that is hope. How do we find it?

At the time of my diagnosis, looking for other things, as always, I found this wonderful article by Katherine Russell Rich. This is a journalist and author who has had metastatic breast cancer for 19 years now, and who was given just 2 years to live when her cancer came back. In that article she says the following:
"I tell the women how deeply I believe there’s no such thing as false hope: all hope is valid, even for people like us, even when hope would no longer appear to be sensible.
Life itself isn’t sensible, I say. No one can say with ultimate authority what will happen — with cancer, with a job that appears shaky, with all reversed fortunes — so you may as well seize all glimmers that appear"
That's what I try to do, as you probably have already noticed if you have read my past tips or if you know me: I seize all glimmer that appear. It can be a scientific article I read, it can be an inspirational story, it can just be by focusing on the now, realizing that, now, as of this moment, I'm filled with gratitude for my well being, and that gives me hope for a tomorrow that may be as good as today. But you need those three steps: have expectation, desire and then trust.

As I have also mentioned before, this year I'm trying to watch a TED talk a day. I recently saw this one called "An unexpected place of healing". Ramona Pierson tells us her incredible story. Here she was, 22 years old, in a coma and blind after a a terrible car accident, with no family or anyone who wanted to take care of her, left there in the hospital to, basically, die. And how, against all odds, she not only recovered but went on to become incredibly successful. Her story is just unbelievable, and it gave me so much hope. Not only hope for myself, but also hope for humanity, for the power of cooperation, and also it showed me how we can all bring something to this table, even if we are really old or have a condition like Alzheimer.

Without hope, I cannot offer much to anyone. If you feel I'm done, why should you listen to me?  But believe me, there are glimmers of hope everywhere, you just have to seize them.

(The video is just 11 minutes long. You'll love it. I promise).

UPDATE: Unfortunately, Katherine Russell Rich died from her cancer on April this year. Here's her obituary. This was personally a huge emotional blow, but now I have learned that her message still prevails, as she survived 18 years with metastatic breast cancer (almost 25 years from her first cancer diagnosis).